A wise person once said, “If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you have always got.”
Over the past few years, we at the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF) have been reflecting on how we work together and how it could be improved. Our goal is to build an organisation that enables its employees to work together productively and to thrive in order to fulfil our mission of advancing digital rights in Europe through strategic litigation.
Through this blog, we journey through the steps of introspection of our current existing leadership model and why it is about being a better funder for organisations working on digital rights issues in Europe.
This introspection process began in 2021, initiated by Nani Jansen Reventlow and later led by Laurence Meyer, DFF’s racial and social justice lead. We first started to reflect on “decolonising ourselves” to be a better supporter and funder of the kind of digital rights work we hope will soon be the norm: making sure the people most affected by technological harm are resourced in a way that enables them to lead on advocacy, campaigning, strategic litigation and other areas.
Fabiola Mizero, an organisational consultant with expertise in anti-oppressive workplaces, helped us identify areas in which we, as an organisation needed to change to live up to its values. Fabiola and her team, through a series of internal workshops, helped us build knowledge collectively on how white supremacy shows up in the workplace in terms of policies, feedback culture, and communication practices among other areas.
Building on the conversations and reflections that we held during these sessions, the organisation made changes to prioritise staff wellbeing and productivity, such as moving to a four-day working week, reforming our salary structure, childcare for working parents, and transitioning to fully remote working.
In due course, these efforts resulted in a decision to transition from a single-director model to a distributed leadership approach. In adopting this approach, our aim at DFF is to firmly place the communities we seek to support at the heart of our organisation. This commitment aligns with our enduring values of iterative learning, anti-oppression principles, and the recognition that digital rights are intrinsic to human rights across all areas of our operations. Whether in programme implementation, daily financial and logistical procedures, grantmaking, or the development of our communications strategy, we find that the most impactful approach involves fostering a sense of joint ownership, and overarching strategies that accord increased autonomy over individual processes to all stakeholders.
In late 2023, our previous Director, Mauricio Lazala, stood down to create space for the organisation to transition to a new model. Since the start of this year, a transition team, comprising our senior staff Darrah Hassell, Nikita Kekana, Laurence Meyer, Barbara Okeyo, and Thomas Vink, have temporarily assumed the executive function of the organisation.
In the interim, the entire DFF team, guided by a dedicated working group, and consultant Gitanjali Wolf has been working with the DFF board to establish a new organisational structure built on a distributed leadership model.
As we collectively shape this new structure, we have embraced a learning journey exploring new leadership, collaboration, and decision-making tools. While not devoid of challenges, we have elevated the importance of collective decision-making, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and valued. Engaging in this process has improved our internal communication and team cohesion, resulting in greater efficacy in our daily operations, including how we conduct our grantmaking and organise events that unite the digital rights community.
In the coming months, we’ll share regular updates on the progress we have made as a team, the decisions we have taken, and lessons we have learned throughout our organisational transformation through a series of blogs. We hope to share more information on our experience of implementing the four-day week and reforming our salary structure to create greater transparency and fairness.
In conclusion, it is essential to recognise that this blog reflects a collaborative effort, representing the dedication, commitment and collective insights of our team.
As ever, we would like to thank the digital rights community for your support and invite you to share ideas or feedback with us at email@example.com
We look forward to seeing many of you at our events and gatherings this year! Keep an eye on our upcoming events page for more details on what’s to come.